Those who know me know that my real bread-and-butter is doing so-called
“Retro Rants” for older WCW and WWF pay-per-views. In one that I did
about a year or so ago for a 1993 WCW show, I made an offhand comment
that someone should remind me to do an essay on why WCW lost $23,000,000
in that year.
Well, many people have reminded me since then.
Coincidentally, Mike Samuda asked me to do another Netcop Rant to help
with the grand opening celebration for Wrestlemaniacs on WrestleLine, so
I figured that this was as good a time as any to release the finished
product. This should give you an idea of exactly how low one promotion
can sink in the quest for ratings and money.
For The Want of a Nail: The Netcop Retro Rant for 1993 WCW.
You know, if there’s one thing more wrestling fans need, and both major
promotions fear more than anything, it’s a sense of perspective.
Case in point, a rather famous poem about seeing the forest for the
trees, that goes like this:
For the want of a nail, a shoe was lost
For the want of a shoe, a horse was lost
For the want of a horse, a message was lost
For the want of a message, a battle was lost
For the want of a battle, a kingdom was lost
All for the want of a nail.
I’m not sure who wrote it, but I first heard it done as a song by Todd
Rundgren and I’ve thought it was a pretty cool bit of advice. The idea
is that if you don’t pay attention to the stupid little things that are
happening, you won’t be able to notice the stupid BIG things that are
happening, until it’s too late.
Much of the online bitching about WCW this year has come from such
“inspired” efforts as the signing of Master P and the epic rap v.
country feud. But that’s nothing compared to the shit they were passing
off as wrestling in 1993. For those of us who had to endure that
particular year, Master P is a cakewalk. All the little things that
happened in that year, while not disastrous on their own, added up to a
huge deficit by the end of the year, one that nearly dragged WCW right
out of existance until the debut of Hulk Hogan in 1994.
In 1992, Bill Watts was given the reigns of WCW, in a move that yielded
great results creatively and athletically, but was a total disaster
financially. Ron Simmons was given a run at the top in order to promote
a “black friendly” image for the company, but the house shows he
headlined barely drew 1,000 people on a good night. The signing of Jake
“The Snake” Roberts provided a much needed boost in revenue for a short
period, but his personal problems sent him crashing out of wrestling
again for a long time. However, the seeds of thought had been planted
in the Turner hierarchy, and that’s always a dangerous thing with them.
And so, shortly into 1993, Bill Watts was fired for having too much
independant thought, the Ron Simmons title reign was trashed, and a new
era of frivelous spending and corporate mentality would begin, one that
would very nearly sink the company in record time, even for WCW.
Ted Turner, eccentric billionaire with an army of yes-men to implement
his every whim.
Eric Bischoff, former coffee-boy and junior-announcer, turned Executive
Vice-President of Wrestling Operations.
Big Van Vader, WCW World champion and eventual scapegoat.
Cheatum, evil midget.
Cactus Jack, loyal company man and amnesia victim.
Sting, even more loyal company man and bad plot device victim.
Sid Vicious, multimillion-dollar free agent and amateur surgeon.
Davey Boy Smith, non-player-turned-multimillion-dollar-free-agent due to
Turner’s spending spree.
Fred “Shockmaster” Ottman, Rhodes family member and hopeful World title
The Hollywood Blonds, most over tag team in 10 years and the one
sure-fire, can’t miss prospect of the whole bunch.
Paul Roma, ex-WWF jobber turned Four Horseman.
Ric Flair, washed up ex-champion who can’t draw anymore.
In January of 1993, the firing of Bill Watts sent shockwaves through the
Turner organization, and sent everyone into frantic pangs of
butt-kissing in order to be the Chosen One who would be given the task
of running the company. Tony Schiavone assumed he was next in line, but
in fact the job was given to unknown commodity Eric Bischoff, whose only
previous experience in running a wrestling company was the
self-destruction of the AWA in 1990, and who had been brought into the
company as a friend of Diamond Dallas Page. He also had, according to
Jim Cornette, “hair that didn’t move, even if he was standing in a wind
tunnel”. With those credentials, WCW figured they couldn’t lose.
The first order of business was to clean up the messy threads remaining
from Bill Watts’ tenure as Executive VP: The World title was taken off
Ron Simmons and put back onto Vader, who was no more of a proven draw
than Simmons was, but at least he was marketable.
But they needed a challenger.
And, oh, where does one start with this…
– Sting. Superbrawl III saw WCW doing what worked before: Putting Sting
in the plucky challenger role by having him foolishly sign a strap match
with Vader. Sounds fine on paper, so what does WCW do? Film a
mini-movie, of course. Vader invites Sting to his “White Castle of
Fear”, and even sends him a charter helicopter. So the helicopter flies
Sting out to the Rocky Mountains, where Sting confronts Vader, Harley
Race, and Cheatum (the Evil Midget), in a mountain hideaway. They talk.
And talk. And then they get into a tug-of-war with the strap, which
snaps in a flash of lightning…and the movie ends. So, uh, how did
Sting get home? Did he walk? But never mind petty details like those.
The match itself was terrific, one of their best ever. So of course WCW
needed a newer, better challenger. Someone preferably from the WWF…
– Davey Boy Smith. Never mind that he had never headlined a card
before outside of England, or captured the World title, or proven
himself to be a marketable commodity. No sirree, logic like that didn’t
stop WCW from signing the British Bulldog to a ridiculously overinflated
contract and pushing him right to the main event against Vader for
Slamobree 93. So that bombed, big surprise, right? So what does WCW
do? Build up a reputation for Smith as an actual contender by having
him defeat top talent in the promotion? No, silly, that would require
the so-called “talent” to lie down for Smith, a name WWF guy, and that
was unacceptable. No, WCW had a much better idea: FILM ANOTHER
MINI-MOVIE! Yee-haw! So here’s the deal: Given a budget estimated at
anywhere between $100,000 and $1,000,000 depending on which side of the
story you’re getting, WCW set up an epic battle between the Masters of
the Powerbomb (Sid and Vader) and the Allied Forces (Sting and Smith).
First, they FILMED a press conference with Vader and Sid announcing
their alliance. I’m not talking about the usual videotaped vignettes
that you see on Monday nights, I’m talking an actual filmed segment
using a professional movie camera and actors and everything. People
thought that was pretty bad. What did we know? Because a short while
later, we got the sequel: Davey Boy and Sting are on an unnamed beach
playing volleyball with a group of orphans (I am not making this up),
only to see the vile team of Sid (wearing the FLIP-FLOPS OF DOOM!) and
Vader (still wearing his mask/jockstrap, even on vacation) pulling up in
a luxury yacht to torment the faces. While Sid (flip-flop, flip-flop)
and Vader saunter onto the beach and appear to challenge Sting and Smith
(and talk…and talk…and talk), it’s actually a DIVERSION, you see.
Because Cheatum, the Evil Midget has a large bomb (helpfully rendered as
a large black ball, just like in Mighty Mouse cartoons) that he places
under Sting’s boat. One of the orphans alerts Sting just before he gets
onto the boat, but the bomb still explodes and the faces are presumably
trapped on the island forever as the heels sail off into the sunset.
This was actually supposed to make people BUY the pay-per-view.
Seriously. This is also why people are constantly complaining whenever
WCW tries “sports entertainment”, because they suck at it. If you feel
otherwise, please re-read the preceding paragraph, and draw pictures to
help bring the point home if need be. Sadly, the heroes were NOT
trapped on the island, because they escaped and had a crappy match at
Beach Blast with the heels and triumphed. No one cared. No one bought
the show. A new challenger was obviously needed. Someone new. Someone
different. Someone with missing teeth and a huge ass. Someone like…
– Cactus Jack. I honestly still don’t know how they managed to screw
this one up. Here’s the scenario, and we’ll follow with a short quiz
to test your booking acumen: Vader and Jack have a pair of matches on
WCW Saturday Night, which was at that time the centerpiece show for WCW.
The first match is inconclusive and Jack is given a good run at Vader.
In the second match, which is even more brutal, Vader ends up
powerbombing Jack on the exposed concrete floor in a sick spot that sees
Jack’s head land on the floor with an audible “thump”. The show is
stopped as an ambulance is called in to carry Jack off. Vader even
seems a little concerned. The fans are in shock. The internet eats it
up with a spoon and some actually look up Mick’s home number and call to
see if he is all right. It turns out that it’s a work to give Mick a
few weeks off to heal. Now, POP QUIZ, HOTSHOT! Mick comes back a few
weeks later…what do you do?
a) Have Foley return, kick ass, and trick Vader into signing a hardcore
rematch, where Foley uses his strengths to overcome Vader and triumph
for the title.
b) Have Foley return and lose to Vader in a tough rematch where Vader
works on the neck mercilessly to reinforce the idea of Vader as a
c) Have Foley return, but with amnesia and a small bag of something
vaguely associated with his son. Have a ditzy “reporter” named
Catherine White find him on the streets of Cleveland, thinking himself
to be a former sailor who can only remember the word “Dewey”. Have him
suddenly regain his memory after an actress playing his wife triggers
his recovery. And, oh yeah, stick Chris Champion into the feud as a
Japanese guy named Yoshi Kwan as his first challenge from Harley Race.
Then have Jack reveal that the preceding three months was all mindgames
on his part as part of an ultimate plan to get Vader at Halloween Havoc
in a dumb gimmick match. Then have him lose the match anyway.
If you said c), send your resume to:
World Championship Wrestling
attn: Eric Bischoff
1 CNN Center
It should be noted that Halloween Havoc 93 was an excellent match that
gave Jack instant credibility as a contender and name value. He was
fired less than a year later after being stuck in the tag team ranks.
Now, if you’ve been paying attention, I bet you’re sitting there
thinking to yourself: “Hey, self, why didn’t they get some other big
fat guy like Vader, give him a stupid gimmick, and then let him take a
run at the title?” Well, since this is WCW, that’s exactly what they
You’ve probably heard of the guy, too.
– Fred Ottman. What? You’re telling me you’ve never heard of Fred
Ottman, who is Dusty Rhodes’ brother-in-law and is thus pushed to the
upper card by divine right on a regular basis? Well, maybe you’ve heard
of his rather famous gimmick. See, Sting and Davey Boy Smith needed a
partner for WarGames 93 against the evil heel team, and WCW wanted a big
surprise for when they announced it. So they took poor Fred (last seen
in the WWF as Typhoon…are the pieces fitting yet?), stuck him in a
stormtrooper helmet that was covered in tinfoil, and gave him
instructions to wait for Sting to announce his name, and then burst
through a breakaway wall onto the set. Well, that was the plan at
least. Sting dramatically announced that his partner at WarGames would
be…THE SHOCKMASTER! No one knew the name. No one cared. And then,
to top it off, Fred burst through the wall…and tripped. He fell flat
on his face, losing his helmet in the process, while Ole Anderson
continued doing his voiceover off-camera, unaware of the botched
entrance. Most of the other wrestlers nearly fell to the ground with
laughter at the situation. The Shockmaster was a flop (literally!) not
5 seconds into his run in WCW. Fred Ottman’s career never recovered, as
he was stuck in the midcard ranks as a clumsy oaf named Uncle Fred after
the incident. It’s too bad — I was personally looking forward to
seeing Vader v. Shockmaster headline Starrcade 93. It couldn’t have
been any worse than we almost got…because there was one final hope for
the World title. And this one COULDN’T miss. The one guy who could CUT
through all the nonsense, grab his SLICE of the pie, and take a STAB at
dethroning Vader once and for all.
Okay, well, Flair lost his first shot at it, but there was always
– Sid Vicious. Since Vicious was the only guy in the promotion booked
to not look an idiot half of the time, he started drawing consistent
face pops. And so in late 1993, after a quick face turn that was
essentially a formality, Sid challenged Vader to a title match at
Starrcade, where Sid was booked to win the title, and everyone lived
happily ever after.
So how come that Flair guy got the title shot instead?
Oh, see, silly me. I forgot to mention that about two weeks before
Starrcade, Sid got into a fight with Arn Anderson in a hotel room while
they were in England, and nearly stabbed him to death with a pair of
safety scissors after things got ugly. The fact that he actually found
something to top the squeegee incident boggles my mind almost as much as
the stupidity of stabbing someone with SAFETY scissors, but Sid never
did play by the same rules as the rest of us. So after taping a few
weeks of footage with Sid as champion, WCW was now left without a viable
contender to the title for the biggest card of the year. And that, my
friends, is the most suitable ending to the year that I think anyone
could have thought up. WCW would have gone bankrupt had Starrcade
bombed, and Bischoff would have been out of a job. But as usual, Ric
Flair bailed them out, and then Hulk Hogan “saved” them in 1994. But
that’s 1994, and we’re making fun of 1993 right now.
As 1993 began, the recently-resurrected NWA had put it’s World title on
The Great Muta, and WCW, it’s largest member, wanted to pass the title
to WCW wrestler Barry Windham. The NWA agreed with this. Then WCW
decided that they were now too big for the NWA, and pulled out while
Windham was still champion. The NWA had more of a problem with this
idea. Then WCW declared that the World title belt was actually owned by
them anyway, so they were keeping it when they left. This pissed off
the NWA royally and lawsuits started flying. The end result was that
the NWA got to promote it’s own World champion, and WCW had to stop
using the NWA name. By this time, Ric Flair had possession of the belt
So what did WCW do? Once again, I present a Booking Quiz:
a) Drop the whole stupid idea since no one cared anyway and just use
the big gold belt for the WCW World title.
b) Have Flair come on WCW Saturday Night and toss the belt in a garbage
can, then challenge Vader for the real World title.
c) Create a phony “International Board of Governors”, who then
recognized Flair as the “WCW International World champion”, a title
which was supposed to be roughly equal in stature to the WCW World
title, but in fact meant nothing. Have said title be defended for
nearly another year before being mercy-killed and merged with the actual
Once again, if you said c), type up your resume, because you have a
future with Turner.
Vince McMahon was once quoted as being the “Walt Disney of wrestling”,
but WCW took that a little too literally near the middle of the year.
The WWF used to do one live RAW per month, and tape the next three weeks
around that live show. It was very cost effective, if totally stale.
WCW decided to take that one step further: They would rent out a studio
in Florida on the Disney World location, and then tape THREE MONTHS of
television at a time for their syndicated programs.
People attending the tapings were specifially told who to cheer and boo.
Signs and shirts were carefully handed out. Wrestling fans were quite
specifically screened out of ticket lines for fear of having
inappropriate reactions to things. It was a farce, a parody of a
wrestling show and a joke on the industry for years to come.
Wrestling fans who DID manage to attend these shows reported to the
internet and elsewhere that nearly four months’ worth of title changes
had been given away by the shows. They reported that then-current tag
champs the Hollywood Blonds would lose to Paul Roma and Arn Anderson,
who would lose to the Nasty Boys, who would hold onto the belts through
October. These shows were taped in July, to help put this in
perspective. Then-current TV champ Paul Orndorff would lose his title
Rick Steamboat, who would lose to Steven Regal, who would still be champ
at the end of the year. Then-current champ Barry Windham would lose the
title to Ric Flair, who would in turn lose to Rick Rude, who would have
the title as the year ended. Vader was reported as having his title all
the way through the October-themed tapings. The US title situation was
uncertain even to WCW, and no segments using it were taped.
This was, to be blunt, the most horrible break of kayfabe ever seen in
wrestling to that time. Now not only was the business obviously
exposed, WCW could no longer book “shock” title changes because their
title runs were now literally set in stone. WCW tried a swerve early on
by having the Horsemen lose their scheduled title match against the
Hollywood Blonds, with the plan being to put the titles on them at a
later Clash of Champions. However, Brian Pillman suffered an injury
between those matches, and Steven Regal had to be subbed in (and thus
given 1/2 of the tag titles by proxy) because footage with the Horsemen
as champs was scheduled to start circulating on the syndicated
programming the next week! WCW never tried a major swerve of that
magnitude for the remainder of the year, and the end result was
pathetic efforts by all involved, and zero intrigue with the fans, most
of whom had already heard the results leaked and thus knew well in
advance of Fall Brawl, for example, that three titles would change
hands. None of the other workers could be bothered to make any effort
to improve between tapings, because by necessity no one who was not
filmed with a belt could win one for any length of time. Thus you had
Marcus Bagwell & 2 Cold Scorpio winning the tag titles and losing them a
week later so the taping rotation wouldn’t be ruined.
By 1994, WCW got smart and stopped taping major angles at these things,
but the damage had been done.
And speaking of damage done…
THE HOLLYWOOD BLONDS
You know why Steve Austin was so bitter towards WCW after his run? It
wasn’t because of the injury, oh no. It was because of something far
stupider and narrow-sighted on WCW’s part.
In 1992, the year ended with Barry Windham and a newly heel-turned Brian
Pillman challenging champs Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas in ****+
matches on a regular basis. Windham was informed that he’d be moved up
to the NWA World title, so Pillman needed a new partner. Austin needed
a new direction, so they were put together and called themselves the
Hollywood Blonds. The gimmick was simple: They were jerks and people
hated them. I mean really, really *hated* them. So much so that by the
time April rolled around, they were so over due to a great catchphrase
(“Your brush with greatness is over!”) and unsurpassed matches with the
champs (many of which approached the magical ***** level on a regular
basis) that WCW had no choice but to put the titles on them. And WCW
didn’t want to do that, because they had built their following on hard
work and decidedly ignoring everything WCW told them to do to get over.
And thus WCW would have to admit that they were wrong. And so, after a
mere two months with the titles, the Blonds were jobbed to the Horsemen
in a poor match for both teams, and Pillman was turned face (in the
single most disastrous turn of his career), with grand promises to
Austin of World title shots that never happened. Austin and Pillman,
quite possibly one of the greatest tag teams in history, had been jobbed
out due to politics, and neither man ever forgave WCW for that.
Especially Austin. What is even more ridiculous is that they lost the
titles to Arn Anderson and…Paul Roma?
PAUL ROMA: HORSEMAN FOR HIRE
So in mid-93, WCW decided to reunite the Horsemen for their inaugural
Slamboree PPV. They had Ric Flair, Ole Anderson and Arn Anderson in
their employ already, now all they needed was a fourth. Tully
Blanchard? Retired and preaching in Texas, although WCW certainly tried
throwing money his way. Barry Windham? The storyline said that he was
a lone wolf, and there was no reason for him to suddenly rejoin the
Horsemen. Of course, there was no reason for him to have joined the
Horsemen in the first place back in 88, but that’s another story. Lex
Luger? Off to the WWF, fighting Yokozuna. So it had to be someone new.
And since they had just signed a couple of new talents, the choice was
Yes, Paul Roma, who was about half the age of any of the team, and had
never done anything more notable than beating the Rockers at Summerslam
90, was the surprise fourth member of the most elite team in wrestling
Boy, you can imagine how well THAT decision went over with the internet
crowd and live crowds in general.
Despite not drawing any heat to speak of (well, no POSITIVE heat, at
least), Roma and Anderson were given the tag titles for a good three
months, before the negative reaction to Roma got so overwhelming that he
was dumped and the entire Horsemen team was disbanded not six months
after the “reunion”. The 1993 version is generally regarded as the
weakest Horsemen unit ever.
LONG WAY DOWN (ONE LAST THING)
Just to add some final perspective to the whole mess that was 1993, this
was also the year that saw the WCW debuts of:
– Maxx Payne: Guitar Playing Villain
– The Equalizer (later renamed Evad Sullivan), quite possibly the worst
wrestler ever (not named “Giant Gonzalez”)
– The Awesome Kongs (two fat guys who make Bigelow look like a ballet
dancer by comparison),
– Ice Train (catchphrase: “Choo choo!” I’m not making that up.)
– The Honky Tonk Man…as a serious contender to the TV title.
– Road Warrior Hawk…as a singles wrestler.
– Ray Traylor, as The Boss…Man, is he big.
All these people were actually hired and paid good money. Some of them
even had matches against each other. All of them were pushed. They all
sucked. No one cared or paid attention to their lack of skill and/or
heat, because all that mattered was finding a good gimmick, because
that’s how the WWF did things.
And that was the problem with WCW in 1993. They desperately wanted the
success and formula that the WWF had, but none of the people hired to
run the promotion had the brains to pull it off. Least of all Ole
Anderson and Dusty Rhodes, the men hired to book for most of 93. As a
rough guide, most of the really sucky years for WCW came under Dusty
After all the damage had been done, the financial losses due to poor
buyrates, nonexistant house show revenues, and generally insane spending
habits from the controlling powers left WCW nearly 23 million dollars in
the red at the end of the year. Obviously a major change was needed,
and Bischoff can be thankful that for once management didn’t start by
firing the Executive VP, like they usually did.
So with his job secure, at the end of 1993, Bischoff did the first smart
thing of his tenure and gave the book to Ric Flair. Flair booked
himself to win the title from Vader in a “title v. career” match, then
proceeded to clean the dead weight out of the upper card, putting Steve
Austin in Dustin Rhodes’ spot as US champion (and grooming him for a
World title run), putting Arn Anderson in Johnny B. Badd’s (another
Rhodes favorite) spot as TV champion, and moving Rick Steamboat back
into contention as a singles competitor, leading to a classic match at
Spring Stampede 94.
In the end, however, none of it mattered to Bischoff or his higher-ups,
because what they wanted was mainstream success, and there was, in their
eyes, only one man for the job: Hulk Hogan. They had almost lost the
kingdom for the want of a nail, and now they were about to gain an even
bigger one with the help of Hogan.
But that’s another rant.